BRENT STECKER

Mariners On Fire: 3 things jumping out from their stellar run

Jul 10, 2022, 9:59 PM | Updated: 10:26 pm
Mariners...
J.P. Crawford and the rest of the Mariners' infield celebrate after beating the Blue Jays on Saturday. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

If the Mariners have had a more fun July series than the one they just wrapped up, I sure don’t remember it.

Smooth sailing: Mariners win 8th straight, sweep Jays

In front of four big T-Mobile Park crowds, the M’s continued their red-hot run of nearly three weeks with four straight wins over the Toronto Blue Jays, and these wins have a lot of meaning.

First, they push Seattle’s winning streak to eight games.

Second, they push their record since June 21, a day they entered with a record 10 games under .500 (29-39), to a staggering 16-3.

And third, their current record of 45-42 has them in a deadlock with those same Blue Jays for the final wild card spot in the American League and just 2 1/2 games behind Boston for the first of the AL’s three wild cards.

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi: Why M’s surge took until now, trade needs

Things feel a little different around here than in May, don’t they?

With the Mariners off Monday before starting a quick two-game interleague set in Washington, let’s look over a few things that stand out about them at this point in the season.

1. They’re slaying some dragons that need to slayed.

It’s hard to overstate just how huge it was for the M’s to sweep Toronto.

Four-game sweeps in general are big on their own, and the ramifications this one had on the standings were monumental. But emotionally, I don’t know if a midseason four-game stretch gets any bigger than the one the M’s had from Thursday through Sunday.

That’s because when the Blue Jays come to town (and the border is open), they bring a large and vocal contingent of their fans down from western Canada with them. It makes for a surreal atmosphere where the Mariners may be the home team on the scoreboard, but it doesn’t always feel like it because of how the crowd is reacting.

The Blue Jays’ trips in recent years have led to some memorable quotes from the Mariners, and not always in positive ways for Seattle. There was Félix Hernández exclaiming that T-Mobile Park (still Safeco Field at the time) was his house in what was the only M’s win in a three-game series against Toronto in 2016. A couple years later after a frustrating start during a series where the Jays took three of four, Marco Gonzales had this to say: “I take that personally when a team comes in here and brings their faithful fans and their muddy shoes and stomps on our carpet and takes a dump on our dining room table.”

Considering that history, I see this sweep as a case of the Mariners slaying a dragon they need to overcome if they’re going to break through and make the playoffs this year. Sure, they swept the Blue Jays in Seattle last year, too, but that was when the border was still closed and the atmosphere at the ballpark was decidedly pro-Mariners. That was certainly not the case this year.

From 2016 through 2019, the Mariners had a 5-8 record at home against Toronto. Since, they’re 7-0. And it’s worth noting they clinched the season series over the Blue Jays this year (5-2), which will come in handy should any ties need to be settled between the two in the wild card race.

The Mariners came into this year with a few monkeys on their back similar to this one, the biggest being their woes against the Houston Astros, who have dominated the American League West for the past five years. The M’s have made progress there this year, too, running an even 6-6 record against the Astros thus far, including what felt like a statement-making series win in their first meeting in April, followed in June by their first series win in Houston since 2018.

The only way out is through. It seems like the 2022 Mariners are figuring that out.

2. The Mariners’ bullpen is back.

Want to know why the 2022 Mariners didn’t feel like the 2021 Mariners for the first few months of the season? They weren’t winning as many close ballgames.

Want to know why the 2022 Mariners weren’t winning as many close ballgames as the 2021 Mariners? Because the 2021 Mariners bullpen was ridiculous.

Well, this year’s is now, too.

Name a Mariners reliever and you’ll probably be naming somebody who is weeks away from a bad outing. Everybody in the bullpen is contributing right now, and that – plus the continued dominance of Seattle’s starting rotation – is clearly showing up in the ‘win’ column.

After Sunday, the Mariners now lead all of baseball in bullpen WHIP at 1.10. Seattle’s relievers also lead the American League in strikeouts to walk ratio (3.56), walks per nine innings (2.75) and strikeouts per nine innings (9.8), and they are fourth in MLB in opponent batting average (.215). And sure, their 3.57 ERA is only 11th in MLB, but nearly a third of the 113 earned runs allowed by M’s relievers came from Diego Castillo (15 earned runs), who has been a different pitcher since overcoming mighty early-season struggles, Sergio Romo (13), who is no longer with the team, and Drew Steckenrider (nine), who has been with Triple-A Tacoma since the start of June.

Not only are Mariners relievers pitching well, but they have a certain extra bit of nastiness to them compared to a year ago.

The fire-breathing Andrés Muñoz has been pitching like someone not of this planet, and he’s currently on a streak of 11 appearances without allowing an earned run, striking out an insane 28 batters to just three walks in 13 1/3 innings over that period.

Hard-throwing lefty Ryan Borucki has nine scoreless outings in 11 appearances since being DFA’d by Toronto and acquired by Seattle.

Erik Swanson is rocking a 0.79 ERA with 32 strikeouts to just five walks in 22 2/3 innings of work this year.

Penn Murfee, a 28-year-old rookie with a funky delivery, was somewhat of a dark horse All-Star candidate thanks to a 1.87 ERA and 40 strikeouts to eight walks over 33 2/3 innings.

The aforementioned Castillo has a 1.69 ERA with four saves, two holds and a 5-1 record in 21 appearances since May 15.

And Paul Sewald has been Mr. Reliable, logging a 2.51 ERA, 10 saves, four holds, and 38 strikeouts to just seven walks over 33 1/3 innings this year.

As if that’s not enough, even when the Mariners lost hard-throwing veteran Ken Giles to the injured list on Saturday, it just cleared up a spot for Matt Brash with his 99 mph fastball and otherworldly breaking stuff to get the call from Triple-A.

Related: M’s bullpen just got even nastier with addition of Brash

Getting a good bullpen to stay a good bullpen from year to year is never a guarantee. But when it comes to getting the right pieces in place for this season, the Mariners have seemed to crack the case in the last month.

3. Another late-career Carlos Santana comeback.

Carlos Santana – for now, we’re talking the legendary rock guitarist – was a big deal in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but he was an afterthought in the music world by the year 1999 after essentially two decades out of the limelight. Then he made an album called “Supernatural” where he paired up with modern pop singers, and he found his biggest success yet thanks to the song “Smooth” with Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas, which was actually Santana’s first No. 1 hit on the pop charts.

Carlos Santana – OK, now we’re talking the baseball player – was similarly an afterthought for the first few months of this MLB season. He scuffled out of the gate with the Kansas City Royals, and this was coming after he had rough showings in both 2021 with K.C. and 2020 with Cleveland. Then the Seattle Mariners needed help with Ty France hitting the injured list, so they sent a couple of minor league pitchers to the Royals for the 36-year-old first baseman. Ever since Santana joined the team, the Mariners are 11-1.

I think you can see the parallels. Find the right pairing for a Carlos Santana when they’re late in their career, and it’s comeback time.

The Mariners version of Santana has been a revelation. After he hit three combined home runs on Saturday and Sunday, basically delivering the last two wins of the sweep over the Blue Jays, he’s slashing .282/.404/.538 for a .942 OPS in his 12 games with the team. And yes, there have been the walks the switch-hitter is famed for – seven, to be exact.

What may end up being most important, however, is the veteran presence he brings to the young M’s team. He already had an established relationship with Mariners phenom Julio Rodríguez, and there seems to be a truly special bond between the two (just look at these photos of Rodríguez hugging Santana after big hits – by either of them – since Santana joined the team, or this tweet from Rodríguez after Sunday’s win). It’s also clear Santana has fit right into the clubhouse, as pointed out by France, who has since joined him in the lineup after returning from the IL on Thursday.

“It’s like he’s been here all year,” Seattle’s Ty France said. “He’s part of the family now and we’re happy to have him here and we’ve been rolling.”

Yeah, you can say that again.

Mariners this week on Seattle Sports

• Tuesday: The Scott Servais Show, 1 p.m.
• Tuesday: Mariners at Nationals, 4:05 p.m. (pregame at 3)
• Wednesday: Mariners at Nationals, 9:05 a.m. (pregame at 8)
• Thursday: The Jerry Dipoto Show, 8:30 a.m.
• Thursday: Mariners at Rangers, 5:05 p.m. (pregame at 4)
• Friday: Mariners at Rangers, 5:05 p.m. (pregame at 4)
• Saturday: Mariners at Rangers, 1:05 p.m. (pregame at noon)
• Sunday: Trident Talk, 9:30 a.m.
• Sunday: Mariners at Rangers, 11:35 a.m. (pregame at 10:30)

Phenomenal: Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez named an All-Star in rookie season

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